Nelson Byrd Woltz | Landscape Architects

Ambiguous Organization Scheme

Nelson Byrd Woltz uses an ambiguous, subject-oriented organization scheme to direct users from the home page to different kinds of company information. Clicking each subject on the main menu leads to pathway pages where more specific information can be browsed.

The "News" link on the main menu is redundant, since the news is prominently displayed on the right side of the home page in reverse chronological order (an instance of Exact Organization).

Organized by Topic
The bulk of the site's information is listed topically in a small menu at the lower left corner:
  • Portfolio
  • Featured Projects
  • On the Boards
  • Firm Information
  • News

Hierarchical Organization Structure

The structure of the site follows a top-down approach, with a narrow and shallow taxonomy. There are only four links on the main menu that lead to new information, but each of these produces a submenu with even more options to choose from. For example, If I wanted to find information about Seven Ponds Farm, I would click "Portfolio", then "Private Gardens", and then the "Seven Ponds Farm" icon. All of the information presented on the site is no more than a few clicks away.

Labeling System

The landscaping site uses a mostly textual labeling system, but some submenus are composed of small icons. There are no contextual links, since all labels are part of the navigation system. From the home page, the user clicks on a word or phrase in which they are interested. Users directly click on the menu options "Portfolio", "Public Gardens and Parks", and then "Parks". But then they are given a selection of six small pictures in the lower right corner. Hovering over one of these icons gives the name and location of the park. Clicking on the icon leads to more photos and information about the park. The use of text labels for the first part of the menu and icons for the second part is an elegant but potentially confusing system.

Home Page Analysis

1. Identifying the site, establishing the brand
The website identifies itself using a logo that reads: Nelson Byrd Woltz: Landscape Architects. This doesn't seem to leave any room for confusion about where the user is or what the site is about. However, the logo is rather small and situated on the bottom of the page instead of the top. To add to the confusion, the large beautiful photo shown on the home page is a different one every time, so a user returning to the site a second time may not recognize where they are.

2. Setting the tone and personality of the site
The large, beautiful landscape photos that dominate the home page and its subpages certainly set the tone that the company is about creating beauty. They use photos of vibrant green lawns, tranquil ponds, fountains, and people enjoying these outdoor places. The simple text logo at the bottom, combined with its simple menu navigation, makes the company seem humble and professional. There is very little text because the company believes their work speaks for itself.

3. Helping people get a sense of what the site is all about
  • Whose site is this? - The Nelson Byrd Woltz site, based on the logo.
  • Who are these people? - This isn't on the home page. Users must click "Firm Information" and then "People".
  • What is this site all about? - This is a little unclear. You need to click the menu options to get any information.
  • How do I keep going on the question or task that brought me here? - The navigation is fairly straightforward.

4. Letting people start key tasks immediately
The only task this website seems to allow is researching the company in order to decide whether to use their services. There is no search function, so users must click through the menus and hope that what they are looking for is contained within. Having a large picture at the top, followed by a menu at the bottom, means that users on smaller screens will have to scroll down to reach the menu (I had to do this when browsing from the computer lab). Not only that, but they must scroll down again EACH time they click a submenu.

5. Sending each person on the right way, effectively and efficiently
Because each page within the site features a large, high resolution photo, the navigation through the site is slow. The older the computer being used, the slower the page will be and the longer it will take for users to get the information they want. The ambiguously titled menu item "Firm Information" could easily apply to all the information on the site. There are also menu choices such as "On the Boards" which users won't even necessarily be able to understand where they go.

Pathway Analysis

1. Most site visitors are on a hunt for something and the pathway is just a way to get them there.
Most users will click on Firm Information first, as it will give off the best "scent" for people on a mission to have a question answered.

2. People don’t want to read a lot while hunting.
The site doesn't contain very much text at all, but when you click on "Firm Information" you are immediately taken to the "Philosophy" page and presented with a long paragraph of text. Most people are not going to be concerned with the company's philosophy - they are looking for more practical information.

3. A pathway page is like a table of contents.
The pathway page is exactly that, a table of contents. But once again, users must scroll down to the bottom, where a submenu that looks almost identical to the main menu can be found. It could potentially be hard to notice. Unless users are looking carefully, they won't notice the new menu options and instead they will think that the firm's philosophy is the only content.

4. Sometimes a short description helps people.
The links don't have any short descriptions to help people understand where they are going.

5. Marketing is likely to be ignored on a pathway page.
As I wrote above, the company's philosophy paragraph is likely to be ignored. If the user is in a hurry, they will also ignore the large photos that are supposed to be serving a marketing purpose.

6. The smoothness of the path is more important than the number of clicks (within reason).
The number of clicks required is very low, but the smoothness of the path is hampered by large randomized images, and by pages that otherwise look nearly identical except for the addition or subtraction of a few words. Since the amount of information at the end of each pathway is very small, users will find themselves using the back button a lot if they want to learn everything about the company.

7. Many people choose the first option that looks plausible.
The menu choice that will be clicked the most often - contact - is two clicks away from the home page and located at the bottom of the sub-menu. They may bury the phone number a little deep within the site to encourage people to browse a little, but this strategy could easily backfire on the company when someone who just wants to call for a quote ends up getting frustrated and choosing a different landscaping company (one whose phone number is located directly on the front page)

8. Many site visitors are landing inside your site.
All pages within the site lead back to the home page, but users must understand that they must click the logo. There is not a link labeled "home" as Redish would advise. The site also suffers from having no search box, and not clearly separating the submenus from the main menu options.